By Ochereome Nnanna
THE result eventually came out but how many concerned Nigerians paid attention? One would have thought that people would eagerly wait to receive the outcome of the INEC probe of the massive involvement of child voters in the 10th February 2018 Kano State Local Government Election. As usual, our collective attention had moved on to other things. This is why governments and officials get away with blue murder. Mistakes are repeated over and over and Nigeria never moves forward.
On Friday, 4th May 2018, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, addressed a press conference presenting the report of this probe panel headed by an INEC National Commissioner, Engineer Abubakar Nahuce. This eight-member committee was empanelled on 16th February 2018 in response to the uproar following the hordes of child voters who participated in the Kano Local Government polls swept by the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
With the 2019 general elections only one year away, Nigerians were bothered that the Kano election was “a test-run” of what was ahead which would obviously favour the ruling party. While submitting the report on 24th March 2018, Nahuce assured that his committee consulted closely with critical stakeholders such as civil society groups, political parties, the print, electronic and social media as well as security organisations.
Anxiety, however, set in after more than a month and nothing was heard of the matter from electoral umpire. That press briefing last week Friday provided a breather as it gave the people the opportunity to hear what the INEC had found out.
In a nutshell, Prof. Yakubu disclosed that the only role that the INEC played in the Kano local council election (as in all polls organised by the state electoral commissions, SIEC’s) was making available the National Register of Voters, NRV, to the Kano State Independent Electoral Commission, KANSIEC, headed by Prof. Garba Sheka. The law does not allow the national electoral umpire to do anything beyond that. Yakubu also confirmed that KANSIEC did not substantially use the INEC voter register in the conduct of the local government election. In fact, KANSIEC did not even bother to accredit voters from the register. People (perhaps, including the children) just queued up and were allowed to vote.
The INEC Chairman reminded the public that the probe was undertaken because the child voters were linked by critics to the National Register of Voters compiled by the Commission. Having established that no such linkage took place, INEC declared itself and the National Register of Voters exonerated from any such electoral malfeasance in the Kano LG poll. The Commission also stressed that throughout its probe and up till the moment of the press briefing, no individual or organisation came forward with any evidence or complaint of INEC complicity or the use of the NRV in conducting a flawed local government election in Kano State. It added that some of the images and videos of child voters which led to the uproar had been available in the public space even before the Kano LG poll.
Professor Yakubu, however, called on members of the public, political parties and all stakeholders in our elections to partner with the INEC in the continuous effort to clean up the electoral register, especially when it is displayed for claims and objections.
In my view, INEC has done a great job in showing that it is not involved in any real or alleged involvement of child voters in the Kano LG poll. It also successfully exonerated the National Register of Voters. But the job is only halfway done. This probe was unable to confirm or deny the involvement of child voters in the Kano State LG poll. The law does not even allow it to go into such things as INEC has no power to inquire into the activities of the supposedly “Independent” State Electoral Commissions. So, INEC can plead a legal lacuna in not being able to establish the truism or falsity of the Kano State child voter issue as the election was conducted by a SIEC. But if child voters participate in any election conducted by the INEC, the Commission will not be able to exonerate its staff.
The questions remain: why did KANSIEC not use the INEC register as mandated by law? Who will bring KANSIEC and the sponsors of the child voters to account? Who can stop the repeat of this rape of our democracy in future elections? What are the Police and security agencies doing about this?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that children massively participate in voting, even in INEC-conducted elections, in the North. In 2007, I covered the presidential election in Katsina State, the home state of the two main presidential hopefuls, Umar Yar’Adua of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigerian People’s Congress, ANPP. I visited their respected hometowns – Katsina and Daura – to monitor the election. We, the reporters and electoral observers, were shocked to see these children come in their numbers to line up, get accredited and to vote! Nobody – electoral officials, political party agents, political contestants and security agents – raised an eyebrow. An attempt by some of us to call attention to this anomaly was hushed down as if we were putting our safety on the line.
The INEC electoral register (NRV) must be thoroughly cleaned up, and the INEC should not be left alone to do the job. The INEC is only (supposedly) an umpire. The political parties and the citizenry have a greater stake in ensuring we have a clean electoral register and to insist on keeping out ineligible voters such as children. The security agencies are paid to enforce the law. We must all play our parts to get the democracy that will produce credible leaders.
It is OUR job.